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Abbott Stands By Legal Fights With Feds

Attorney General Greg Abbott defends the lawsuits he has pending against the federal government amid criticism that he's wasting taxpayer money, reports Ted Oberg of Houston's KTRK-TV, a media partner of the Trib.

By Ted Oberg, KTRK-TV
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott sued the federal government to have the federal funding for the state's Women's Health Program reinstated. That's just one of two dozen lawsuits Abbott has filed against the feds since he took office 10 years ago. Taking a stand against the government isn't cheap, and some of Abbott's opponents argue that he's wasting taxpayer money.

As Texas' top lawyer, Abbott was in Washington last month when Texas told the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn federal health care reform, and he was there a few months earlier fighting against the Texas redistricting maps drawn by federal judges in San Antonio.

Abbott has filed 24 lawsuits against the federal government. He even campaigned on it in 2010 in a TV ad, saying, "Washington politicians are trying to control our state and our economy, but we're fighting back."

Records from Abbott's office show he has spent more than $1.25 million fighting the federal government in court. Despite an army of 700 state paid lawyers, nearly half the money was paid to private law firms across the country.

"The truth is, it shouldn't cost a penny. If the federal government were following the law, we wouldn't be involved in any of these lawsuits," said Abbott.

For a breakdown of Texas' legal spending on lawsuits battling the federal government, check out this Tribune interactive.

He says some of the costs, especially for outside lawyers, are the result of defending lawsuits on redistricting. And that he has been forced to take suit to fight back against a federal government that is "trampling" on the rights of Texans.

"The way I see it, the federal government has a fight with Texas," Abbott said.

Abbott's critics see it differently.

"Someone's made a decision; they have to draw a line in the sand or fight the EPA at every turn," said Charles Irvine, a Houston environmental lawyer who has faced off with Abbott in court. 

"It's just a huge waste of government tax dollars fighting this fantasy battle with the federal government," said state Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston.

Abbott denies any political connections with the legal actions, but some suggest the political calendar may suggest otherwise.

"Looks and smellslike a political decision," said Irvine.

Of the 24 suits Abbott filed since taking office, 20 were filed since 2010. And 11 of them were filed during Abbott's 2010 re-election campaign.

"The timing of it is easy to measure. The timing of it is the result of the current administration in Washington. It's that administration in Washington, D.C., that's unchecked by the Constitution, unbound by the law," Abbott said.

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Health care State government Federal health reform Redistricting Texas Legislature Women's Health Program